Big Fire In Brownsville: Dozen Families Homeless 1897

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There was a fierce fire at an early hour this morning in the block of frame dwellings at the corner of Powell street and Belmont avenue, close to the end of the pavilion seats in the Eastern Park ball grounds. So close and hot were the flames that the fence adjacent to the pavilion was destroyed for a distance of 100 feet or more, and it was only by the strenuous efforts of the firemen that the pavilion seats and perhaps the grand stand itself were not destroyed. There was a high wind blowing at the time which made it all the more difficult to fight the flames.

The inmates of the houses escaped with difficulty, and there seems to be some doubt as to whether all got out. One child was missing up to noon, today, but as missing children are common occurrences in Brownsville the police hope this one will turn up all right.

The fire started at 3 o'clock in the corner house, which is 1 Belmont avenue. It was a few minutes after that hour when Isaac Holberg of 22 Livonia avenue, a conductor on the Liberty avenue trolley line, while returning to his home saw the flames in the store on the ground floor. He ran two blocks to the home of Engine Company No. 31 on Eastern parkway, and turned in a still alarm. The engine was at the scene of the fire in a minute or two, but even then the flames seemed to have penetrated to the upper floors. Foreman Charles Heath turned in two alarms, and when the district engineer got there he sent in two more. Heath sent a number of his men into the burning building to see that all the inmates were out. Fireman Ray Dodd and John Reid carried two people out. They were scared out of their senses. Policeman Martin Coffey of the Twenty-Seventh Precinct also went into the building at the risk of his life and got out the family of Julius Shavinsky. The latter's wife and two children were safely landed on the sidewalk when it was discovered that a 14 months' old child had been left behind, and Coffey went back after the infant and soon placed it in the arms of the frantic mother. Two of the persons who had been carried out of the burning building in their night clothes tried their best to get back to save some of their goods. One of them was a girl about 20 years old, and after the firemen had driven her and a rescued man back once or twice they turned the hose on them and this stopped their desire to enter the flaming furnace.

In the meantime the flames had communicated with the houses on the side and in the rear on Powell street, and the police busied themselves in getting the people out of their houses. Coffey ran up to the third floor of 397 Powell street and carried down an old man named Henry Mintz, who is helpless with consumption. The wind, which was blowing briskly, carried the flames across Powell street toward the fence around the Eastern Park ball grounds. The firemen had laid a double line of hose close to the fence, as it was too hot to go near the burning building. When the flames broke out on the extension of the corner building it made the position on the opposite side of the street untenable. The firemen had to vacate. Thomas Smith of Engine No. 31 tried to save the hose, and only desisted when he felt his rubber coat beginning to sizzle. He then ran away and the hose caught fire at the same time the ball grounds fence did. Smith's coat was ruined and the firemen saw the danger to the grand stand in the burning fence and turned two effective streams on it.

The four alarms had brought Chief Dale and fourteen engines and as soon as they got to work the fire began to give way before the torrents of water, and it was soon under control. The building where the fire started is entirely destroyed. A few charred timbers in the cellar is all that is left. 3 Belmont avenue is considerably damaged, but that it was not burned more testifies to the energy and efficiency of the firemen. 5 Belmont is only burned a little about the roof. On Powell street No. 397 is nearly gutted and the two that are next in the row are damaged in a less degree. The total loss will probably fall under $50,000, but the greatest hardship is on the people living in the houses who have lost their all. The man on whom the firemen had to turn the hose to keep him from going back in the burning building wanted to get $7 which were in his trousers pocket. Few, if any, of the people burned out had any insurance.

The corner house, which is a total loss, was owned by F.G. Wild of 132 Nassau street, New York, a lawyer, who acquired it by foreclosure proceedings last year. The families of Louis Benjamin, Julius Goldberg, Samuel Grimberg and Julius Slavinki lived in it and they lost everything. The house next door is owned by a man named Levy, who lives in New York. Jacob Goldberg, Abram Benjamin and Simon Stanberg lived there with their families. The furniture is all more or less damaged. S. Marks of 312 East Fifty-eighth street, New York, owns No. 5 and S. Levine of 417 East Forty-first street, New York, owns No. 7. The Powell street houses are owned by H.C. Conrady, the Francis Miller estate and the Eitell estate, the offices of all being at 204 Montague street. Conrady's house is gutted and the other two are not so badly burned, the Eitell house being burned only about the roof.

It is thought the fire originated in a pile of cuttings and refuse in the tailor shop of Louis Benjamin and may have been caused by a lighted cigarette carelessly thrown down.


Website: The History
Article Name: Big Fire In Brownsville: Dozen Families Homeless 1897
Researcher/Transcriber Miriam Medina


Brooklyn Daily Eagle September 21, 1897
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